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This article by Elaine Strauss was prepared for the January 29, 2003 edition of U.S.

1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Ballet Takes to the Ice

Take a troupe of 35 classically trained Russian ballet

dancers, add lots of water, a refrigeration truck, and ice skates,

and you’ve got the St. Petersburg State Ice Ballet. Constantine Boyarsky

created the ensemble in 1967. Since then it has given over 5,000 performances

in Europe, South Korea, Canada, and the United States. Now in its

eighth U.S. tour, the group has performed in every state except Hawaii.

Ice Ballet performs "Sleeping Beauty on Ice" Thursday, January

30, at 7 p.m. in New Brunswick’s State Theater. Set to the music of

Tchaikovsky, the classic fairy tale is presented in four episodes.

The choreographer is Konstantin Rassadin, who began designing dances

after 23 years as a dancer. He has been the St. Petersburg Ice Ballet’s

principal choreographer since 1980.

Ice Ballet presents a personalized version of the fairy tale known

to Americans. At the christening of the Princess Aurora the wicked

fairy, Carabosse, omitted from the invitation list appears and curses

the baby, saying that one day Aurora will prick her finger and die.

The Lilac Fairy softens the spell; Aurora will not die, she will sleep

for 100 years.

On her 16th birthday Carabosse, in disguise, offers Aurora a spindle

as a gift. Aurora pricks her finger on it and, along with the entire

kingdom, falls into a deep sleep. A century later Prince Desire, hunting

in the forest, encounters the Lilac Fairy, who shows him a vision

of Princess Aurora and he falls in love. He finds his way to the castle

and awakens the princess. The court celebrates the marriage in the

company of such well-known fairy tale characters such as Red Riding

Hood, Puss-in-Boots, and the Bluebirds.

Company manager John Sullivan, who crisscrosses the United States

on tour with the troupe, describes the tricks of turning a theater

into an ice rink. The Ice Ballet travels with a portable frame, which

it sets up on stage as an ice rink, normally configured at 40 feet

square.

On a few occasions pre-existing ice is available; that was the case

for a Nebraska performance in a hockey rink. Though providing ice

was not a problem, painted scenery drops had to be maneuvered into

place to reduce the performance area from hockey dimensions to theatrical

dimensions.

Typically, ice is loaded into a theater 24 hours prior to performance,

Sullivan says. After the rink is set up on stage, bags of ice are

unloaded and water is added. A portable refrigeration unit mounted

on a truck outside the theater is tethered to the rink with hoses.

"There’s rarely a leak," says Sullivan. "Ice doesn’t melt

in theater. It’s reliable." Ice Ballet works with two different

ice rink companies for its touring program in the United States.

Technicians of the ice rink company act effectively when disaster

threatens. "Once," Sullivan remembers, "water was seeping

up during the first act of the Nutcracker. The rink was turning into

a swimming pool. The technicians stopped the leak and refroze the

ice during intermission."

Sullivan speaks of only one cancellation. "We were in Greece performing

in outdoor amphitheaters in summer. The performances were at 9:30

p.m. The ice is covered during the day so the sun doesn’t do any damage.

However, the wind blows warm air. Once, when there were high winds,

the ice was destroyed and we had to cancel the performance."

Sullivan knows a few words in Russian, and the group’s

command of English is rather low. A translator is constantly at hand.

Sullivan arranges for me to talk by telephone with Alexei Pogodin,

a principal dancer. Pogodin has performed with the Kirov Ballet. He

is a multiple prize winner in international ice competitions. He is

married to Elena Komarova, also a principal dancer for Ice Ballet.

"Alexei has relatively good English," Sullivan says. But as

soon as the first question leaves my mouth, Pogodin calls in the translator.

How about making the transition from stage to ice-dancing? "It’s

difficult because it’s hard work." Pogodin says. "There’s

a lot of training involved. Showing feelings is more difficult because

you’re skating instead of having your feet on the floor."

Pogodin took two or three years to make the transition, he says. Does

he consider returning to the stage? "I’m thinking I might,"

he says, "but it would take a long time to make the transition

back."

Does an ice-dancing career last longer than a stage career? "They’re

almost the same," Pogodin says. "It takes 10 years to learn.

Then you can work for 20 years as a professional, until you’re about

age 50."

Do audience responses vary from one country to another? "The Americans

are very attentive," Pogodin says. "They know the stories

and know how to react."

What does Pogodin do when he’s not performing? "I watch the show

from back stage," he says. "When the company has day off in

Florida, we go to the beach or go shopping. Shopping’s a pleasure,

especially at Christmas time." Pogodin enjoys the warm atmosphere

of Florida. Add to that friendliness the coolness of ice and the mix

is just about right for an evolving ballet dancer.

— Elaine Strauss

Sleeping Beauty on Ice, State Theater, 15 Livingston

Avenue, New Brunswick, 877-782-8311. The St. Petersburg State Ice

Ballet. Pre-performance discussion ($6) at 6 p.m. Tickets $18 to $38.

Thursday, January 30, 7 p.m.


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